Third is as good as first for Richie Porte.
On Saturday Porte (Trek-Segafredo) rode the individual time trial of his life to vault onto the Tour de France podium in what could be his final stab as a GC contender at the race. Porte finished the stage tied for second with Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma), 1:21 behind winner Tadej Pogačar.
“To finally crack the podium, that’s the picture I want on the wall at home, in Paris on the podium,” Porte said in the post-race press conference on Saturday. “It’s just so incredible to finally do it, it feels like a victory to be honest.”
The impressive ride boosted him in the GC standings ahead of Miguel Ángel López (Astana), who struggled on the course and fell from third to sixth overall. Porte now heads into Sunday’s ceremonial stage to Paris firmly in third.
“It’s been a long journey with the battles I’ve had and the drama along the way, so I’m just so happy to finally be on the podium in the Tour de France,” Porte added.
Indeed, Porte hails from Tasmania, and emerged over the past decade as Australia’s best contender for yellow following the success of Cadel Evans, who became the country’s first Tour de France winner back in 2010. A strong climber who could also blaze a fast individual time trial, Porte made his WorldTour debut with team Saxo Bank in 2010, and he he rode in support of Alberto Contador at the 2011 Tour. In the ensuing seasons Porte emerged as super domestique for Chris Froome at Team Sky, and shepherded Froome to Tour wins in 2013 and 2015.
His strong riding hinted at GC potential, and in 2016 he signed with BMC Racing to lead the squad’s Tour de France ambitions.
“I grew up watching the Tour de France on the other side of the world, seeing guys like Robbie McEwen, Brad McGee and the greatest of them all, Cadel Evans,” Porte said. “It doesn’t matter what other races you’ve won, the Tour’s the one that you’re always judged on.”
But bad luck seemed to follow Porte in his efforts to win the Tour. In 2016 a mechanical problem on the Tour’s second stage saw him lose valuable time. He eventually rode his way back to 5th overall, which was his best finish at the race prior to 2020. In 2017 and 2018 Porte crashed out of the race entirely, and in 2019 rode to 11th place overall.
“BMC had put a lot of money and resources into me doing well at the Tour. All of the hours I spent training and getting ready for the tour to be in good form. To have something like that happen,” Porte said in a 2019 interview about the 2018 Tour. “I’m not an emotional person, but then for me it was more that being away from my wife with a newborn baby at home, it was like, ‘Well, that was for nothing.’ In a split second it is taken away from me.”
Porte entered the 2020 Tour as Trek-Segafredo’s co-captain alongside Bauke Mollema, and the two rode strongly through the opening weeks to be inside the top-10. The only setback occurred on stage 7 when Porte lost 1:21 to the GC favorites after he and Mollema were caught out in the crosswinds heading into Lavaur. In the ensuing stages Porte chipped away at the deficit, and in the Pyrenees emerged as one of the strongest climbers in the race.
Porte rode consistently in the high Alps, riding just off Pogačar and Roglič on the summit finish to the Col de la Loze, where he finished 5th on the stage to move up two spots into 4th on GC.
“To be honest, there are climbs in cycling, like the Zoncolan, that are absolutely brutal, but today, with the final at altitude, I could barely pedal my bike,” Porte said after the stage. “With 500 meters to go I couldn’t stand up. Everybody went super deep.”
Porte had the podium in sight, but one man stood between him and his goal: Miguel Ángel López of Astana. López won atop the Col de la Loze to confirm his top form heading into the Tour’s finale, and appeared to be an unmovable rock in Porte’s way. Another hazard in Porte’s way was the dirt road atop the Plateau des Gliéres on stage 18. As he pedaled along the dirt section Porte suffered a front flat tire and was forced to chase for the final 30km to catch back on. The effort left lingering questions of whether or not Porte had the energy left to uncork a top time trial and overtake López.
Saturday’s ride showed that Porte had the legs and patience to put everything together, and it came at the right moment in his career. Porte missed the birth of his second child to race this Tour de France. And he’s slated to leave Trek-Segafredo at the end of the season, and in his next destination — rumored to be Ineos Grenadiers — Porte is likely to ride in a supporting role.
“I came here with a mission, so to do this, it goes a little bit towards making it worthwhile,” he said.